L L Prior.
When the Kelpie finally stalled — the hounds a distant memory — Eleanor sighed deeply and slid off his back. She took a moment for herself with hands on her knees, taking a few deep breaths and focusing on the feeling of fresh air inflating her lungs. Even the air felt different here, alive, almost sweet — it tasted blue. Eleanor frowned. It didn’t make sense, but then again, what did of late?
Standing upright, she turned to the Kelpie, who had been watching her silently with deep respect in his ancient eyes.
‘Where are we?’ she asked.
‘If you want to reach Halion, we need the aid of an old friend of mine.’
‘I have questions. Lots of them. First, why do you keep calling Hal that name? Second, who is this “friend” of yours? Third, are they a kelpie too?’
The Kelpie remained patient as Eleanor waved her arms as she spoke. No doubt she appeared to be bordering on insane, but if anyone deserved a mad moment, she did. Everything was being turned on its head; her daughter was under Rowan’s spell, a magic car kidnapped her, and to top it all off, she could shoot blue lightning bolts from her newly youthful hands. Forget a mad moment — Eleanor was doing well not to be having a complete and utter breakdown. The Kelpie nodded and patiently answered the questions.
‘Halion is well-known in these parts. While he is Hal to you, we know him by his true name,’ he said, clambering onto the land and walking along slowly so Eleanor could keep up. ‘My friend is named Marisol. She is a very trustworthy individual — so long as you don’t steal anything, she’ll treat you well, Eileanori. As for her kind? It is not my place to say.’
‘Why is everyone calling me Eileanori?’ she whined, sounding far too childish for her liking.
‘Let’s find Marisol first. Then, you can ask more questions.’
Eleanor still didn’t know where they were, but the Kelpie guided her calmly and gently. A strange silence hovered over them, making her feel like a child again. She was unsure of what to say or if she should speak at all.
‘What is your name?’ Eleanor finally asked. ‘You saved my life, and I don’t even know what to call you.’
Smiling, he said, ‘Griogair.’
Well, thank you, Griogair.’ Eleanor bowed her head. ‘Are we close to your friend yet?’
‘There,’ he said, nodding his head at a depression at the bottom of the hill.
Eleanor saw a small house built of stone with a mossy roof, a warm orange glow in the windows, and wisps of smoke drifting from the small chimney. Next to the house was a small ravine and a watermill; a small washing line hung with fabrics still to be collected fluttered in the night air. So they descended, walking carefully down the steep hill. Eleanor tried to imagine what woman lived in such a fairy-tale cottage. Marisol was an unusual name, though somehow, the name rang a bell in her mind, as though hiding in a long-since buried memory.
They were a few feet from the front door when Griogair halted in his spot, stiffening as he watched the horizon.
‘What is it?’ Eleanor whispered.
‘Stay behind me,’ he ordered as he moved in front of her.
Eleanor placed a hand on his neck to stop him; she wasn’t scared anymore. A low grumbling hiss came from behind them, and they turned to see a Maine Coon cat stalking them. It was far larger than any Eleanor had ever seen. She’d had a school friend who had an enormous one growing up, but the one before her was the size of a calf.
With every step the feline took towards them, Eleanor watched its powerful muscles flex. It was a beautiful tabby with dark fur that allowed it to disappear into the shadows whenever it so desired. Finally, she came face to face with the high-cheeked, square-muzzled animal and was stunned at its splendour. Its shaggy fur coat and long crooked tail seemed to shimmer in the night air, and its eyes were huge golden yellow saucers. They were wide-set and sat high on its head, close to the tall, narrow ears. As it stared at Eleanor, its vertical pupils widened, becoming clear, perfect circles. She shuddered as it approached, feeling its hot, panting breath against her skin.
‘Stop teasing the poor thing.’ Griogair sighed in exasperation.
The Maine Coon stopped and glared at the Kelpie before huffing and circling on the spot, quickening its pace before slowly morphing into a humanoid figure wearing a fur cloak. The figure lowered the hood to reveal their face. The woman had thick hair, which changed from light to dark brown with her movements, and identical oversized eyes to her feline form. She was on the shorter side, and if Eleanor had to guess, she was possibly in her early twenties.
‘You’re no fun, Griogair,’ the woman said. ‘Anyway, why bring strangers to my property if I can’t defend it? You know how I feel about outsiders.’
‘Marisol,’ the Kelpie tutted, shaking his head. She wasn’t what Eleanor had expected. ‘We have bigger things to worry about than your solitary wants.’
‘Don’t you think I know that?’ Marisol sighed, brushing past them both. ‘You and your friend better come inside. It’s dangerous at night, don’t you know?’
Eleanor watched as Griogair followed, gesturing for her to come too as he changed into human form.
‘Where’s Lorelie?’ he asked.
‘She began her search. Left two days ago,’ Marisol said as she opened the door.
It was a small, cosy space. The walls were hand-painted with murals, and in the warm gaslight, Eleanor noticed flecks of paint on Marisol’s skirts and hands. ‘We’re all getting desperate now. He’s getting stronger with every passing day, and if she isn’t found soon, well, then, we can say farewell to everything we love and care about.’ She waved her hand around, gesturing to her surroundings.
The glimmer of a ring on Marisol’s finger caught Eleanor’s eye. She squinted and saw it was a wedding ring like her own, except Marisol’s was gold instead of the cool, twinkling silver of hers.
‘Search?’ Eleanor asked. ‘Who is she searching for?’
‘Our little girl!’ Marisol sighed. ‘Well, technically, we’re not her parents, but we’re as good as. We cared for her when her parents weren’t able to.’ She turned away, shielding her face to hide her welling tears.
Eleanor couldn’t help but recall when her children left home, albeit probably under different circumstances. She remembered the sadness, the growing pit of grief in her heart as she mourned the children who were no longer children, but fully-fledged adults, going out into the world and living their own lives. It was a difficult and painful experience each time. She often missed coming downstairs to find them huddled together on the sofa, whispering to each other and watching Sunday morning cartoons, hoping not to get caught by her or Bill.
‘I’m sorry to hear that you don’t know where she is,’ Eleanor said. Marisol met her gaze and gave her a sad smile. ‘As a mother myself, I give my deepest sympathies.'
‘Thank you, dearie. Lorelie and I love that little girl as our own, and it broke our hearts to lose her.’
‘If you don’t mind me asking, what are you?’
‘You didn’t tell her?’ Marisol glanced at Griogair.
‘I know how you feel about people talking about you without your knowledge.’ He shrugged. ‘I thought you’d prefer to tell her yourself.’
Marisol sighed and nodded, gesturing for Eleanor to sit down as she placed a pot of water over the fire.
‘I’m a boggart,’ she explained.
Eleanor frowned. Marisol didn’t match anything that Eleanor thought she knew about them. They were supposed to be stocky, fat, hairy men with prominent chins and even bigger noses — little thieves with malicious intent.
‘You’re not what I expected from a boggart,’ Eleanor confessed.
‘And what did you expect?’
‘A nasty, ugly little man.’
‘That’s a goblin,’ Marisol corrected, pointing a spoon at the older woman. ‘We’re very different creatures.’
‘Okay, what’s a boggart then?’
‘We’re a type of fairy – technically speaking, we’re like eighth cousins thrice removed. But we’re not goblins.’
Eleanor eyed the boggart curiously and thought about the feline form she had before. She couldn’t be sure, but she saw some similarities to the cat that tormented her at home, the massive one which laid on her bed. Maybe, Eleanor thought, perhaps this boggart was the reason behind her missing possessions, her moments of madness that convinced Lizzie she needed 24-hour care in a nursing home. If that were the case, then she’d grab the pretty creature by the ear and drag her back to her daughter’s house to prove her sanity.
‘Are you actually thieves?’ Eleanor asked.
‘Damaging typecast,’ she muttered. ‘A few bad apples are kleptomaniacs, and they call the whole tree rotten.’
‘Seven months ago, there was a cat like you on my bed in my house. Was that you? Things kept going missing too.’
‘Where’d you live?’
‘Outside this realm? Absolutely not.’ Marisol lowered the spoon and looked at Eleanor. ‘Only Lorelie goes out of the realm.’
‘Is Lorelie a boggart?’
‘Then who was the cat?’
‘Describe it to me.’
‘Big, pitch black, green eyes. There was a missing piece of its left ear.’
‘Let me guess, snaggle-tooth on the right side?’ Marisol rolled her eyes and leaned forward on the counter.
‘It was you then?’
‘No.’ She shook her head. ‘You can’t change the kind of creature you turn into. But I know the one you’re talking about — Weasel.’
‘My baby brother, a century or so younger than I. He’s a Weasel in name as well as nature.’ she scoffed as she grabbed a bottle of whiskey and poured some into a glass. After gulping it down in one swig, she continued. ‘Damn brat. Here I am, trying to convince an other-realmer that not all boggarts are as bad as they believe, and here’s my horrid sibling filling all the clichés there are. Just so you know, he works for him.’
‘I chased Weasel out the house with a broom and a bucket of water,’ Eleanor said, hoping to cheer her up.
Marisol clapped her hands and howled with laughter. ‘Oh, fantastic, you brilliant child! I would kill to have seen the look on his face as you chased him,’ she cackled. ‘Now, what about you? Why are you in this realm, and more importantly, why are you in my kitchen?’
‘Marisol,’ Griogair said softly, reaching over and taking her hand in his. ‘Look at her,’ he nodded towards Eleanor, ‘and I mean really look at her.’
Eleanor stiffened as Marisol walked up to her and stared at her closely. Suddenly, she felt shy under the woman’s gaze, despite her wildly extroverted nature – known for always being happy to stop and chat. Marisol suddenly gasped and cupped Eleanor’s face, eyes welling with joyful tears.
‘Eileanori? Is that you?’ Marisol laughed gleefully. ‘My, how big you’ve gotten. You were but a wee babe when I last saw you.’ She pulled Eleanor into a hug and stroked her hair, ‘Oh, Lorelie, always one for disastrous timing. She’ll kick herself when she realises all she needed to do was wait a few more days.’
‘You know me?’
‘Know you? Why, of course, I do! Lorelie and I raised you for the first two years of your life.’ She grinned, walked back to the counter, and carried on stirring the stew.
‘What? That was you?’
Eleanor knew she was adopted; it wasn’t a secret, and she had seen the news article herself. A baby girl was found on the side of the road, wrapped in a blanket, with a water-stained piece of paper that looked like it had Eleanor written on it. She’d never felt the need to know any more about her past than that article. Her birth parents left her on the side of the road as far as she was concerned, so why spare them another thought when they didn’t do the same for her?
‘Precious, you were a babe. Of course, you wouldn’t remember us, but my word, do we remember you. When your parents dropped you off, begging us to protect you, we knew you were destined for greatness; it broke our hearts to give you up, but with Him getting more and more powerful, we knew it was for the best, just like they did.’ She sighed and shook her head. ‘Poor folks cried so badly when they had to leave you, but they knew keeping you with them would put you in danger, and they couldn’t do that to you.’
‘You knew my parents?’ Eleanor asked, eyes widening. She had so many questions. Were they like the other people she had met in this place? What did that make her? Were they alive? Did they know about Rowan and why he was after her?
‘Oh, yes, you’ve got your mother’s looks, but I can tell that your father’s stubbornness ruins right through those veins,’ Marisol chuckled. ‘I know many things must be going through your head right now, Eileanori, but there are three things never to doubt. First, your mother and father loved you to the ends of this realm and the next. Second, Lorelie and I loved you as though you were born of us. And third, you have always been powerful and destined for greatness.’
Eleanor felt a warm comfort from Marisol. She looked around again with her newfound knowledge and could hardly believe that this house with this boggart and her selkie wife was where she spent the first twenty-four months of her life.
‘Is that why Rowan is after me?’ Eleanor asked.
Marisol flinched at the name and dropped the spoon. ‘So, you know of Him?’
‘Rowan is the “him” you’ve been talking about?’
‘Oh, yes, that bastard . . . power-hungry, selfish, and desperate. The most pathetic of sorts. But mix that with his already strong abilities, and that is a frightening combination.’ Marisol sighed as she retrieved the spoon.
‘He’s spent a lifetime searching for you, Eileanori. You’re your mother’s daughter, and that is why he’s after you. She was a mighty guardian of the realm – a much stronger being than him – and that frightened him to no end. As is the case, these abilities are inherited, something I imagine you’re now aware of.’
‘Well, Rowan wasn’t aware your mother and father were expecting, so when you were born, they did what they had to for your protection and gave you to Lorelie and me to keep you safe. They ran to lead him away from you. We never heard from them again, but Rowan? He must have heard about you somehow and started tearing the realm apart, searching for you to take your powers. Lorelie and I came to the difficult conclusion that you would be safer in the outer realm than you would be here. Then two decades ago, Rowan became far stronger than ever before. We panicked and decided that we needed to find you.
‘As a selkie, Lorelie is a true free spirit, so she often enjoys wandering around this realm and the other from time to time, hence our home near the ravine. It’s easy for her to come and go as she pleases – anyway, I digress. We decided she’d go to the outer realm every year and search for you to bring you back. You’re the only known being stronger than Rowan. I’m not too fond of the outer realm anyway, and but someone had to keep an eye out here to see what happened with Rowan. I never imagined you’d find your way back to us, though, knowing you wouldn’t have any memory of us.’
Eleanor sat quietly for a moment, soaking in the information. The answers she wanted sat in front of her, and she had no clue what to do with them. Marisol was right – Rowan was a cowardly bastard. He couldn’t even fight her fairly; he had to manipulate herself and her daughter. If he were as powerful as he deluded himself to be, he’d have had no problem fighting her face to face, looking her in the eye.
‘I’m going to kill him,’ she muttered.
‘Now, now, Eileanori.’ Marisol walked over to her and tapped the end of her nose. ‘Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. You can do all the massacring you want later, but first, you need to rest – it’s been a long day for you no doubt. You’ll be safe here.’
‘I’ll stay as well if that’s all right,’ Griogair said. ‘If he discovers that she is here, you’ll need all hands on deck.’
‘Much appreciated, Griogair. You can stay in the ravine if you like.’
‘Thank you.’ He nodded to each of them before walking out of the house, leaving the women to themselves.
Eleanor wandered around the house, taking it all in. It was warm and smelled of homemade bread. There were swollen bookshelves and a fireplace with potted plants everywhere they could fit. Anyplace without a plant or a book was filled with stones, shells, sea glass, and more. The perfect mixture of land and sea – boggart and selkie together. Eleanor stopped in front of a canvas where Marisol and a woman were painted so perfectly that she had to check closer to be sure it wasn’t a photograph. They were both in elegant cream and gold gowns; Marisol had flowers in her hair, and the woman had seashells in hers. They were smiling and had their arms wrapped around each other.
‘Is this Lorelie?’ she asked as a smiling Marisol came up next to her.
‘Yes, this is she.’
‘She looks kind.’
‘She’s a wonderful being. I’m so fortunate to have married her.’
‘How did you meet?’
She laughed. ‘I fell into the ocean. A long story, but, um, Lorelie saw me and pulled me to the surface. She took her seal skin off and wrapped it around me because I was shivering. I thanked her and offered to make her dinner to show my gratitude. She took me home, and she just didn’t want to leave . . . and I didn’t want her to either.’
Eleanor smiled as she listened to her story, looking at the painting.
Marisol glanced down. ‘I noticed you have a ring too. If you don’t mind a mother prying, what is their name?’
‘Bill. His name was Bill.’
‘He passed on,’ Eleanor whispered, clearing her throat and blinking away the tears that threatened to form.
‘Oh, precious . . .’ Marisol sighed and bought her into a hug.
Eleanor wrapped her arms around Marisol and inhaled deeply. The scent of cooking spices, flowers, and freshly-washed clothing filled her nose and made her feel safe.
‘You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to. Take your time.’
‘Thank you, Marisol.’ Eleanor smiled awkwardly as they pulled apart.
‘Come, let’s get some food in you. It so happens that I made your favourite – rabbit stew with mushrooms.’ Eleanor’s stomach grumbled happily at the sound of that, making Marisol laugh. ‘See, precious? I do know you.’
Eleanor joined in the laughter and followed Marisol to the kitchen, where she plated the meal and handed a hearty bowl to Eleanor.
‘Thank you.’ Eleanor smiled as her mouth watered. She knew she was finally home.
The Great Escape Chapter 6/9 will be published on Sunday August 29th
Next week's author is Mirna Chandrak